In a beige brick building exactly one mile from LaVell Edwards Stadium hangs what most residents in the area would perceive to be a serious local eyesore. On the second level of a Wymount Terrace student apartment complex in Provo, there’s a drum, a feather, the block U, and the four letters so many who bleed blue despise. And, of course, red. All for everyone to see.
It’s rivalry week in the state, so Taylor Smith flies his flag. His team’s flag. It’s in his second-story apartment window. It’s in the line of sight when Brigham Young University students living in the area step off the shuttle that takes them to and from various parts of campus. To get to the other apartments in the complex, they have to walk by the red flag. It sticks out. Because, after all, that’s the whole point.
For as much as some Utah fans vow they’re over the rivalry, or that BYU fans declare the Utes are perched too high in their own ivory tower, nothing captivates the state like this game does every season, nothing stops everyone in their tracks like this. Those who say otherwise secretly look forward to it, while gloating over previous wins on the schedule. This is, and always has been, the great ignitor. This week is no different, no matter what you hear or read.
The Utes are Pac-12 South champs for the first time ever. The Cougars are bowl-bound but desperately hoping to snap a seven-game skid against their rivals, a lengthening streak that fans on both sides say has, in fact, taken some venom out of the rivalry in recent years. But what’s it like living in enemy territory? The Salt Lake Tribune sought answers from both sides of the aisle, from the red and from the blue, to find out what life is like wearing red in Provo, or wearing blue near the hill.
Let’s start with Smith, a BYU law student from Davis County, who has been a Utah fan for as long as he can recall. He attended BYU both for his undergrad and now postgraduate pursuits. Admittedly, the personal fervor around the rivalry has died down in recent years, because in law school, your time to argue is more focused on case studies than bogus holding calls or sketchy pass interference flags.
His flag in the window represents being out of place.
To Smith, that’s totally fine.
He’s used to the odd looks, or heads shaking in disgust, or belabored counterpoints to why he should be supporting his alma mater rather than its eternal rival. Being a proud Utah fan at BYU isn’t as awkward as it may seem, Smith explains. He wears red. A lot. Funny enough, it’s professors on campus who often verbalize their frustrations with his contradictory approach. There are others like him. Smith isn’t alone. He anticipates there being quite a bit more Utah fans who go to BYU than vice versa.
“The real brave souls,” Smith said, lashing, “are the ones who wear blue in Salt Lake.”
Blue where red rules
Brian Endicott was on his way to a meeting recently, his BYU polo proudly on, his BYU lanyard hanging around his neck, when an elderly woman shuffling along the same skybridge heading toward University of Utah Hospital stopped him. She pointed at the “Y” and told him he was out of place. She said if he wasn’t careful, he was going to get a pummeling. Then she went even further. “You deserve it,” she told him.
Endicott, a video producer in the education department at Primary Children’s Hospital, told the Utah fan that she could wear red all around BYU’s campus and not be heckled or bothered. She then glared and shrieked: “Pansy!” before shuffling off. Endicott and the rest of those walking between the hospitals on the skybridge giggled.
“Who would’ve expected that?” he asked.
Endicott is a BYU lifer. Born and raised in San Diego, he grew up going to BYU-San Diego State games and Holiday Bowl triumphs. Primary Children’s Hospital is technically part of Intermountain Healthcare, Endicott said, but the medical staff is made up of University of Utah employees. So for a while, his office was in the back of an auditorium where meetings often took place. Through the big glass window, however, doctors could easily see Endicott’s own massive BYU flag pinned up against the wall in his office.
Doctors, die-hard Utah fans, would tell him that he had to take it down. Some even told him they were going to complain to the human resources department about it.
“You go right ahead,” he’d tell them.
Endicott estimates that of the roughly 5,000 employees at Primary Children’s, there are maybe 10 BYU fans who would openly sport the blue without fear of jeers. The animosity of the rivalry has slowed, he says. Co-workers who are Utah fans empathize more with Endicott and his fellow BYU followers now that the Cougars have trudged through some tough seasons.
Regardless, it’s rivalry week and Endicott said he’s decked from head to toe in Cougar gear.
“I’m wearing everything I’ve got right now,” he said this week. “At a meeting this morning, I got a lot of crap for it, and there was nothing I can say.”
Red in the land of blue
It wasn’t until Jeremy Jensen moved to Utah County 14 years ago that the rivalry he grew up enthralled by became so much more than just a game. Growing up in Bountiful as a Utah fan, Jensen estimates his hometown is split about 50-50 between Utah and BYU fans. Jensen, also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, was soon introduced to a different side of the rivalry.
Soon, new co-workers asked him why he wasn’t rooting for the Lord’s team. Jensen misses the days when he worked from home for about five years, because his most recent job is a lot like the one where he’d show up and have to answer a million questions about why his fandom runs deep red.
“The religion’s just brought into it so much,” Jensen said, who now lives in Mapleton. “It’s intense.”
He’s been shown photos of Utah fans taking shots with sacrament cups and a Utah fan dressed as the Angel Moroni at a Utah tailgate lot. Jensen explains to his BYU-leaning co-workers that he’s never seen that in all his years as a Utah fan. His family had season tickets growing up, too.
“[BYU fans] are more plugged into the anti-religious stuff than the Utah fans,” he said.
Jensen has a trick up his rivalry sleeve this week — an email is going out to co-workers masked as information about one of his company’s competitors. Instead, it’ll be a link to a site designed by a Utah fan counting how many days it’s been since BYU last topped the Utes. A growing number Utah fans have been boasting about it for nearly a decade now, and Cougar fans have been forced to take it for just as long.
As of kickoff Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, that number will be 3,283.